St. Mary Star of the Sea Church Dedicated in Brooklyn, 1853

St. Mary Star of the Sea Church Dedicated in Brooklyn, 1853 February 13, 2011

Laying the Corner Stone of a Catholic Church.
The Brooklyn Eagle, July 18, 1853

Yesterday afternoon the corner stone of a Catholic church, dedicated to St. Mary, “star of the sea,” corner of Court and Luqueer streets, was laid with the usual ceremonies, His Grace Archbishop Hughes being present, and officiating on the occasion. The ceremonies were announced to commence at 4 o’clock, P.M., but it was near 6 o’clock before the Archbishop arrived. A vast crowd had assembled, consisting of not less than 10,000 persons, all of whom manifested a strong interest on the occasion. The children of the Catholic Orphan Asylum, situated at the junction of Congress and Court streets, and the Sunday school, carrying their banners, accompanied by Adkin’s band playing “The Flag of Our Union,” with their white dresses, made a very handsome feature in the assemblage.

When Archbishop John Hughes (1797-1864) dedicated this church, Brooklyn was still part of the Archdiocese of New York. Eleven days later, on July 29th, it was made a separate diocese.

The Archbishop arrived about 6 o’clock. He was supported by Rev. Messrs. McGin and Bois, Deacons of Honor, Rev. Dr. Bacon, of the church of the Assumption, Sidney Place, (the founder and builder of the new edifice) and the following clergymen of New York and Brooklyn, all of whom assisted in the ceremonies: Rev. Mr. McDonough, St. James’ church, Jay street, Rev. Mr. Delahanty, St. James’ church, Rev. Mr. McKeon, of Gowanus church, Rev. Mr. Schneller, of St. Paul’s church, Court street, Rev. Mr. Farrell of St. Paul’s, Rev. Mr. Quinn, of St. Peters’, Very Rev. Mr. Laughlin, Vicegerent* of St. Patrick’s church, Rev. Mr. McClusky, Church of the Nativity, Rev. Mr. Malone, of Williamsburgh, Rev. Dr. Cummings, of St. Stephen’s New York, and Father O’Driscoll, of the Society of Jesus. It was announced that M. Bedini, the Papal Nuncio, would be present, but he had not arrived from Washington, and consequently did not appear.**

Father David Bacon (1814-1874) was the founding Pastor of St. Mary’s. In 1855, he was named first Bishop of Portland, Maine.

At the south end of the building, fronting on Court street, a platform was raised, covered by a canvas tent, and in the centre a dais, where purple cushioned chairs, were placed for the accommodation of the Archbishop. On the east wall the band and a choir of male singers were stationed, an executed a number of sacred compositions during the intervals of the ceremonies.

St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, Brooklyn, as seen in the 1880’s. Notice the horse-drawn trolleys in front of the church.

The Archbishop in his official robes, accompanied by the clergymen already mentioned, proceeded to perform the ceremony of laying the corner stone, and read the Latin ritual, the priests uttering the responses. In the cavity of the stone were deposited American coins of the present year, a written history of the Crystal Palace, documents giving names of officiating Archbishop, the Pope, civil officers of the United States, &c.;, &c.;, both in Latin and English, copies of the leading daily papers of New York, the Eagle and other Brooklyn papers, &c.; A collection was then taken up to aid in the erection of the Church, which must have realized a large amount. The Archbishop then delivered the sermon.

For many years, the Sisters of Charity of New York taught the girls at St. Mary Star of the Sea School. The boys were taught separately by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn. The school closed in 1988.

He said that the number he saw around him proved that the love for God and the zeal for His church had not diminished on this soil of freedom and of liberty, although some might have been attracted by curiosity. They had laid the corner stone not of a mere temple, but a part of the universal Church of Christ; for if one church could contain all the Catholics in the world, they would find themselves in perfect harmony on every rite of worship, and would not need one another. He regarded everything as auspicious, even the season and the scene around them. There is, he observed, a tendency abroad to dispute everything from the existence of God downwards; and those who denied that saints of God could not intercede for their friends on earth believed in spiritual knockings: in tap, tap, tap. (Here he struck the end of his crozier on the platform, creating a good deal of merriment.)***

The Boys’ Graduation Class of 1903. Notice the logo at the bottom of the picture.

The Catholics were to be the depositaries of the faith that must be a land mark for the guidance of a great portion of the American people who were ready to go to the left or the right after every delusion. They believe that the Virgin Mary although a human daughter of Eve, yet as the mother of Christ, to have been preserved by God, from the stain of original sin, and in her name this church was to be dedicated: the first church on this continent erected in attestation of this conviction of the Catholic Church. He remembered when a priest came over to Brooklyn to celebrate mass to about ten dozen of people about once a month, and compared that period with the present when they require so many additional Catholic churches.

In front of the church is a statue dedicated to the young men of the parish who served in the First World War. One of them was Thomas Briordy (1896-1960), who graduated from the parish school. His family emigrated from Ireland (possibly from County Cavan) at the time of the Great Irish Famine, and were active parishioners for several generations. (His grandchildren include the author of this blog.)

He concluded by giving the Episcopal benediction and the whole ceremonies were terminated by a solemn Te Deum.**** The building is to be of brick, faced with Connecticut stone, in accordance with the old English style of architecture. It will be 70 x 120 feet in extent, with chancel 36 by 25 feet additional, and a tower 25 by 25 and 300 feet in height. In the rear, and extending from the right of the main edifice, is to be erected an addition to be sued for a school. It will be 25 feet on Luqueer street, and 65 deep. The whole will be complete in about a year, and the whole will cost between $30,000 and $40,000. When finished the church will be under the pastoral charge of Rev. Dr. Bacon, whose urbanity and gentlemanly deportment have rendered him popular among all classes.

*A Vicegerent is a sort of deputy in charge of a church or cathedral.

**Archbishop Gaetano Bedini (1806-1864) was sent to the United States as the Pope’s representative. At a time when anti-Catholicism was high throughout the country, his presence provoked riots wherever he traveled.

***The Archbishop is making reference to the movement known as Spiritualism, which was basically an attempt to contact the dead. Spiritualists believed that inexplicable tapping noises were one of the means employed by the deceased to make contact with the living. After Abraham Lincoln’s death, his wife Mary was involved in the movement. (One of the most popular songs of 1853 was “Spirit Rappings.”)

****Te Deum is a hymn of praise sung upon special occasions like the one above. It’s Latin for “We praise you, O God.” It dates back to the fourth century A.D.

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